by Betty Dorsett Duke
Stephen Caruso, the Deputy Counselor for Clay County during the 1995 exhumation and subsequent DNA testing, told this author and Missourian Greg Ellison during separate telephone conversations that Clay County Judge Vic Howard ordered the James Farm & Museum to hand over the hair and teeth to Prof. Starrs for the purpose of DNA testing, but he instead handed over hair he obtained from the head of John Hartman, Director of the Clay County Park’s Department in 1995. The Clay County Parks Department owns and operates the James Farm & Museum. Caruso claimed he didn’t give them the hair and teeth because it wasn’t right for them to have them.
Although there are two graves bearing Jesse James’ grave in Clay County, Missouri, the original grave and Kearney’s Mt. Olivet Cemetery grave, Professor Starrs originally planned to only exhume the Mt. Olivet grave but he ended up exhuming his reported original grave as well. The original grave was exhumed in 1902 for the purpose of reinterring the remains in Mt. Olivet Cemetery, and then reexhumed in 1978 to retrieve remains that were left behind in 1902. Jesse James’ boyhood home is now a tourist attraction known as the James Farm & Museum – a tombstone marks his reported original grave.
Professor Starrs submitted two bones and fourteen or fifteen teeth (reports vary) retrieved from the Mt. Olivet grave to Drs. Stone and Stoneking at Penn State University for DNA testing. Their final report states that “…none of the remains retrieved from the Mt. Olivet grave were suitable for DNA testing. They were poorly preserved, presumable to wet and slightly acidic soil conditions.” Their report also states that “only two teeth and two hairs retrieved from a 1978 exhumation of the original gravesite on the James family farm, yielded reproducible mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) for testing.”
Dr. Stone, Dr. Stoneking, and Professor Starrs maintain in their final DNA report that the teeth originated from the original grave, but in 2001 Caruso told NBC 8 Anchorman Jim Riek that the teeth submitted for DNA testing “had nothing to do with the teeth that were dug up.”
Milton “Milt” Perry, the now deceased curator of the James Farm Museum in 1978, performed an unauthorized exhumation of the original grave in 1978. Beth Beckett, the current curator, told this author that Perry encased the human and animal remains retrieved from it in a Tupperware bowl and stored it in his desk drawer. Beckett further said that Perry handed out the remains encased inside the bowl as souvenirs to various individuals as he saw fit; was fired for unrelated reasons, but before leaving augured a hole in the original grave and reburied the Tupperware bowl, along with the remainder of the remains encased in it.
Now that the true origin of the hair is known, how can anyone involved in the 1995 exhumation and subsequent DNA results expect the rest of the world to take their word as to the origin of the teeth used for testing?…
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